Since he left office in May 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan has been out of the public view until his first international assignment as a statesman came this month. He chaired The Commonwealth’s Election Observer team covering the just concluded elections in Tanzania. Jonathan’s appointment was celebrated by the Tanzanian people.
Below are excerpts from his report submitted to The Commonwealth on the elections which were judged as free and fair.
How do you feel as chairman of the Commonwealth Observer Group being your first international assignment after handing over back in Nigeria?
I am honored to have chaired the Commonwealth observer mission during such significant elections for the people of the United Republic of Tanzania. Our presence here reaffirms the Commonwealth’s support to the country and its democratic process. The Commonwealth observer group commends the people of Tanzania for the peaceful and orderly manner in which they exercised their rights to vote on October 25th, 2015.
On 23 October, our teams were deployed throughout Tanzania to observe the election environment and preparations. The Commonwealth teams also observed the final campaign events around the country. Our final report, which we will complete before our departure, would be issued at a later date.
What has this group observed that entails multi-party democracy on the mainland Tanzania and the island nation of Zanzibar?
The emergence of UKAWA alliance of opposition parties, following the constitutional reform process which has now been shelved, heightened the competitive nature of these elections. We were therefore pleased to note, from our briefings with the police and other stakeholders, that the campaigns which attracted large crowds, were generally peaceful, although reports of some incidents were recorded. In Zanzibar where tensions between the two main parties were high, we heard similar reports about the campaigns. Our observers in Pemba (Island) and Unguja reported that those campaigns which they observed were peaceful. We note, however, that the campaigns in Zanzibar were concluded on the 23rd October, a day earlier than scheduled, in order to cool down the political temperature.
Our general conclusion was that in spite of some tensions and minor incidents, the fundamental rights of candidates, political parties and supporters to assemble and campaign were observed.
What was the major legal issue between the ruling and opposition parties?
An issue that divided the political parties was the interpretation of Section 104 of the National Elections Act which prohibits people from assembling within a 200 metres radius of any polling station. While one party asserted that its supporters could stay on after voting as long as they were beyond the 200 metre radius, another held the view that irrespective of this provision, after voting, voters should leave the premises and go home.
How would this group rate the balance on media coverage of the campaigns between the parties?
There has been a proliferation of media in Tanzania since multi-party elections in 1995. The media is on the whole split between state-run media and the private sector but media ownership is limited to a few powerful players. The law provides for an allocation of air time which is available to all political party broadcasts. It also states that there should be equitable opportunities to access free time and the amount of time allocated to political parties and the rates charged should be consistent to all parties and candidates. However, some stakeholders expressed concern that media coverage of the elections tended to favour the governing party.
What is the assessment of the election which was full of promises and intense rivalry?
On election day, our observers reported that most voting stations opened on time with a few exceptions. For instance, our observers witnessed one polling station in the Kinondoni district of Dar Es Salam which delayed its opening until noon due to the absence of the voter register. Polling officials informed us around midday that the returning officer had instructed that the supplementary voter register should be used. Other incidents where polling stations did not open at all due to insufficient materials, among other administrative and logistical issues, were also brought to our attention later in the day. Polling officials largely followed opening procedures and voters exercised their franchise in a smooth process. It was noted that ballot box lids and ballot papers were in corresponding colours for each election, which provided clarity of voting for voters.
How would this group rate the election officers and the voting process?
We commended the competence of polling officials, many of whom were young men and women. They collaborated with party agents in a collegial atmosphere, assisted elderly and disabled voters, and maintained calm and order in the polling stations. Where there were anomalies in the application of certain procedures, they were not of such gravity to negatively impact the integrity of the process. We further note that on election day, the voter register appeared robust with few incidents where voters did not find their names on the register, possibly allaying some anxieties about the BVR process.
In some cases, however, some voters were allowed to vote after completing the necessary forms. On election day, Commonwealth observers found that the 200 metres issue did not pose any problem. We noted discreet, yet effective police presence.
Our overall assessment of the voting process, based on our observations was that it was conducted in a peaceful, calm and orderly manner, according to the procedures outlined in the laws of the United
Republic of Tanzania. The electoral environment on election day was conducive for the free exercise of the people’s franchise and basic freedoms were respected. We would provide some recommendations on how the process might be further improved in our final report.
Were there inconsistencies in the application of procedures?
At the close of polls at 4pm, the long queues in some places had thinned out. Where there were still voters in the queue, they were allowed to vote in line with the law. Closing procedures were also generally well observed. In some instances, there were inconsistencies in the application of procedures. We noted however, that they were not of such a magnitude as to negatively impact on the overall process. We would propose recommendations on this matter in our final report.
Polling officials and party agents collaborated in a collegial spirit during the count. Our observers recorded few spoilt ballots. It appears voters were conversant with the process and also knew how to make their mark. Where there were contested ballots, the polling officials and party agents resolved the matter amicably.
Was the collation of results impressive?
We have received reports of tension in some places where our observers are based including in Mtwara and Mwanza. We noted with particular concern the decision by the Civic United Front (CUF) to prematurely announce results in Zanzibar, which exacerbated tensions there.
How would your group classify the electorate who were openly divided between the two main parties, the ruling CCM and opposition CHADEMA?
We wish to commend the people of the United Republic of Tanzania for demonstrating their commitment to democracy by engaging so keenly with the electoral process in a peaceful and orderly manner. We call on all stakeholders, in particular the political leadership and their supporters in Zanzibar, to continue to show restraint and magnanimity and to uphold their commitment to national unity, peace and solidarity. We believe the people of Tanzania deserve that from their leadership. In our final report, we would reflect on possible areas for improvement. In particular, we would address two official recommendations which the 2010 Commonwealth observer group proposed, both of which remained unimplemented.